Hailing Jin Published in Nature Communications

Hailing Jin

Hailing Jin

RNA, a nucleic acid essential for all known forms of life, is made from DNA.  Many RNAs are used to make proteins. However, these RNAs can be regulated by “small RNA” (snippets of RNA) that bind to them. This binding leads to the suppression of gene expression.  Known as RNA gene silencing, the suppression plays an important role in almost all cellular processes.

 To direct the silencing of target genes, small RNA binds to a protein called Argonaute protein (many organisms possess multiple Argonaute proteins). The small RNAs, processed from double-stranded RNA precursors, first form a short double-stranded RNA structure called a duplex structure, which must be “sorted” into an appropriate Argonaute protein, with one strand selected as the functional small RNA while the other strand gets degraded.  Without this sorting, the silencing of genes would be inefficient and may not even occur.  Just how the small RNA sorting takes place has not been understood.

 Now in a paper published in Nature Communications, Hailing Jin, a professor of plant pathology and microbiology, and colleagues report that the structure of the small RNA plays an important role in the small RNA sorting.

 “Different Argonaute proteins prefer small RNAs with distinct duplex structures,” Jin said. “By using structure modeling, we also identified specific amino acid residues – so called motifs within the Argonaute protein – that are responsible for recognizing the small RNA structure.”

 The findings suggest that by simply designing the small RNA duplex structure small RNAs could be directed into desired Argonaute proteins, which has beneficial potential for agriculture.

 Jin, the director of the Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics Graduate Program at UC Riverside, was joined in the research by Xiaoming Zhang, DongDong Niu, Airong Wang, Angel Lee, Vinnary Tun and Chia-en A. Chang at UCR; Alberto Carbonell and James C. Carrington at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Mo.; and Zonghua Wang at Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University, China.

 The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Agricultural Experiment Station-Cooperative Extension.

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